As reported by Canada’s CTV and confirmed by a post on the band’s website, Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie has died. Downie had been diagnosed with glioblastoma—a terminal brain cancer—last year, with the band embarking on one final tour shortly after that. Downie was 53.
An icon in Canadian rock music, Downie was born in Ontario in 1954 and befriended most of the future members of The Tragically Hip when they were in high school together. Originally a cover band, The Tragically Hip started to develop a following thanks to Downie’s Canada-centric original songs and entertaining onstage antics. This eventually led to a record deal, with the band releasing its first full-length album, Up To Here, in 1989. The Tragically Hip quickly became a hit in Canada, and while it never really became the international phenomenon that the early fans expected it to become, Downie’s fondness for his homeland gave off the impression that being a legend in Canada was just fine with him.
In 2001, Downie released his first solo album, Coke Machine Glow, and he also appeared on collaborations with a number of other Canadian artists like the Sadies, Fucked Up, and City And Colour. He has also dedicated a lot of time, particularly after his diagnosis, to spreading awareness of the discrimination faced by Canada’s Aboriginal people, including a multimedia project called Secret Path that involved an album and a graphic novel about a boy named Chanie Wenjack who died in 1966 after running away from a residential school—basically a government-backed program that forced indigenous children to assimilate into the dominant Canadian culture. In June, Downie was appointed to the Order Of Canada for his philanthropic work.
Canadian Prime Minister (and noted Hip fan) Justin Trudeau shared a tearful statement on TV, saying that Downie “loved this country with everything he had” and spent his life trying to make Canada better. “We are less as a country without Gord Downie in it,” Trudeau noted.
Downie’s final solo album, Introduce Yourself, will be available later this month.